Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Danger in the Depths

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

Perhaps because there was never much effort to connect its various sourcebooks into a cohesive universe, one thing that can be said about Villains & Vigilantes is the sheer amount of variety. There’ve been modules where the players fight ninjas, battle aboard a space station and the island stronghold of a mad scientist, journey to a medieval fantasy world and to the farthest reaches of outer space, even to the depths of Hell. There’s even one where the heroes are asked to battle evildoers at a comic convention. Yet for all that, I always felt the system was missing an adventure about a visit to Atlantis. Or at least a reasonable facsimile. Evidently it’s another one of those things they’d actually thought of a while ago, but didn’t get to publish until just recently.

One thing I liked about this adventure right out of the gate is it doesn’t start with the players hearing about some emergency or weird occurrence and checking things out. It starts with them already locked in battle with an evildoer. While the GM is of course free, even encouraged, to use a villain of their own design, a couple are provided as a courtesy.

Speaking personally, one of my favorite writers for V&V has always been the guy who wrote this, Ken Cliffe. One of the things I liked about him was how he actually did build something of a singular universe via little connections he would make between the different books he wrote. For instance, one of his books was a compilation of villains called Super-Crooks and Criminals, and one of them was a swashbuckler type called the Highwayman. He often worked with another villain called Apollo, who didn’t appear anywhere in that book. However, should you read the module Organized Crimes, you’ll find a villain named Apollo with a similar swashbuckler style. I bring this up because one of the villains provided for the attack is Elisa Fathom, or the daughter of Nathan Fathom, the villain Bluegill who appeared in Super-Crooks and Criminals.

That’s a lot of attention to lavish on something ultimately so small, I know, but it made me feel like Cliffe was invested in the material he created. Not just writing an adventure for a superhero game because he had a couple cool ideas for villains.

The purpose of that fight is to have the players handily at the shore when a blue-skinned guy comes up begging for help, right before a group of heavily-armed, nasty blue-skinned guys show up and try to kidnap him. When the heroes undoubtedly refuse to let this happen, they find out they’re harboring the fugitive ruler of an undersea city. And then things get interesting.

I mean that. If V&V had one glaring weakness in its premade adventures, it’s that a lot of them tended to be simply:

Part 1: Battle with villains/investigate strange goings-on.
Part 2: Now aware that villains are up to no good, track them to their lair for a final battle.

Instead, the villains are the ones who go on the attack. It culminates in the players having to protect the city from a full-scale invasion, which was a break from the norm for this system to be sure.

After that, it’s time for the players to go on the attack and help the deposed regent regain his throne. And that’s when the adventure gets a lot more free-form, with suggestions on what to do during the trip to the city and how to incite rebellion once they’re there.

While I said I felt the game’s library of peripherals felt kind of empty without an undersea adventure, that’s not to say I think Danger In The Depths really shines. At least, not as much in the second half as the first. The first half places the heroes in a situation not often seen in premade adventures, which is to say as defenders rather than attackers.

The city is run like a pretty typical and bland tyrannical society. They even have gladiatorial battles for the amusement of the upper crust. Don’t evil people enjoy anything besides watching guys kill each other? Also, the trip to the city itself, in a submarine with occasional dangers from marine life and other underwater hazards, seems like something that would easily become tedious without a very good GM. For all that, however, the module provides a pretty comprehensive understanding of how to game out characters being underwater. It's also a product where you'd actually expect to find that information. "Pre-Emptive Strike" doesn't exactly scream "buy this for the system's aquatic rules." And I sure didn't see where the cover advertized it.

This, on the other hand...

I did like that the module came packed with an NPC aquatic hero, sort of like Commander Astro from Battle Above The Earth. The one Cliffe dreamed up for this adventure, however, is not only a lot more creative but as a result is much better geared toward appearing in adventures outside Danger In The Depths.

All in all a pretty good adventure, but Terror By Night has nothing to worry about.


  1. Thanks for writing this review. I enjoyed drawing it and thought it was a great resources for V&V with respect for the ocean... and I'm equally as glad that the art didn't make you gag...


  2. Mr. Bishop (can I call you James?), yes indeed this is a great aquatic supplement for the system. I'm sorry I didn't talk about the artwork, but it was actually pretty solid and I respect you for working to provide the visual component of pretty much all the new V&V products. I'll see about mentioning that more next time.

    Peace out.

  3. Danger in the Depths has some great resource material for GMs to use, namely the info on the various forms of sea life, as well as giving GMs several options for how they "nudge" the PCs into action, without them feeling railroaded.